Will there Soon be No More Room for Orthodox Jews in Davos?

For more than a century, Davos in Switzerland, a town of 11,000 inhabitants, has been a tourist magnet. Jewish vacationers also traditionally like to come to Graubünden. But now, the public sentiment is being stirred up against Orthodox Jews there.

Recently, the »Gipfel-Zytig«, a publication which describes itself as an »organ for tourism in the Prättigau, the Davos and Albula valleys and the Engadine«, published a photo of feces in front of a house under the telling headline »Crap on the Terrace.«

»These people« The accompanying text says: »The owner of the pretty apartment in Davos couldn’t believe his eyes: After his guests had checked out, he discovered this mess on the terrace, undoubtedly from a human being of Jewish descent.« The man would no longer rent an apartment to »these people« in the future, the newspaper continued.

And the local paper in Davos recently published a letter to the editor saying this: »The behavior of Orthodox Jewish guests here in Davos is not only borderline at times, but downright presumptuous and transgressive.« With »all understanding for the suffering of the Jewish people,« it was unacceptable »that the descendants of the victims use behavior that cannot be reconciled with local customs, even in the most elementary way.«

Last but not least, the managing director of the tourism association »Destination Davos Klosters«, Reto Branschi, stated that Jewish tourists in Davos were »to be held responsible in a special way for the littering of the landscape«. According to Branschi, in an interview with the »Bündner Zeitung« newspaper, »it is noticeable that the problem increases strongly during the main vacations of the Orthodox Jewish guests. We have been seeing this phenomenon for several years.«

»Rules not observed« Davos was open to all vacationers, regardless of their origin or religion, he said. »But there are rules. Unfortunately, they are not being observed, specifically by Orthodox Jews,« Branschi stated. »Misbehavior deters not only locals but also other tourists in Davos, some of whom leave earlier than initially planned.«

The tourism board has now abruptly ended its partnership with a project run by the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG), which aimed to mediate between the local population and Jewish Orthodox guests. Another goal was to build mutual understanding.

The project had not lead to any result, Branschi justified the exit. »We are still in the same situation: A group of guests has no respect for our customs in public space and reacts dismissively to all attempts to explain it to them«, he claimed.

In an interview with the Jüdische Allgemeine, this Jewish weekly, SIG Secretary General Jonathan Kreutner sharply rejects Branschi’s statements - and speaks of deliberate propaganda against Jewish tourists.

Mr. Kreutner, what do you think of Reto Branschi’s statements?
It is really unacceptable that an official representative of a tourism organization uses such language. This shocks me. It is one thing that individuals in Davos have trouble with certain visitors. But Mr. Branschi makes an entire community responsible for the behavior of individuals. Generalizing in this way is not acceptable at all.

Does Davos no longer want Jewish tourists, and if so, why not?
There is certainly a group of people in Davos who profit less, economically, from this particular group of visitors, and they are probably putting pressure on them. In addition, there are probably negative feelings toward Jews, resentments that exist among some. This is also the case elsewhere. But, have you ever heard that a whole group of tourists is no longer wanted at a vacation destination because a few misbehave? There certainly are Russian or Arab visitors to Davos who do not observe local customs, or ice hockey fans, for that matter. But you never hear any demands in this regard.

The SIG had a cooperation with the tourism association Destination Davos Klosters, which has now been terminated. What is your reaction?
Since 2018, we have tried to use intercultural mediators on site, between the local population and visitors. This has been a successful approach - as opposed to the way it is being portrayed now. But the tourism association has terminated our cooperation rather nonchalantly, by email, arguing we would not resolve the issues - just as if we were the tourism police in Davos.

Reto Branschi says the project had not delivered the desired results. What is your reply?
We will now have a final meeting, to end the project in a dignified way. But basically, Destination Davos Klosters has burned all bridges and created the impression, among many, that Orthodox Jewish people will be scared away. From our perspective, it is an escalation to no longer want to cooperate with the official association of Swiss Jews. Besides, it is quite unique that the head of a tourism organization bluntly carries over the behavior of individuals to a whole group. What we read between the lines is that certain guests are no longer wanted.

Would that succeed?
Never ever. Davos has been a tourist magnet for Jews for many years. This association is acting rather headless. It seems overchallenged. Does it want to take the whole town hostage in the end? Davos lives from tourism, and public statements like those of Mr. Branschi can cause immense damage to its reputation, which would also hurt the local population. Conversely, we should also not make sweeping judgments and lump everyone together.

Davos is internationally known for its annual World Economic Forum, which also promotes intercultural dialogue. Have you already spoken to those responsible for the Forum? What do they think of the event?
We haven’t yet. But I have to say I’m a little disappointed by the public’s reactions, or rather the lack of reactions. So far, at least, hardly anyone has been outraged by Mr. Branschi’s statements.

Davos was also the base of the NSDAP national group leader for Switzerland, Wilhelm Gustloff, during the Nazi era. Has Davos faced up to this part of its past?
To this day, the town has not really faced up to this dark history. But that is the past. We need to talk about the present and the future. The fact that the Davos tourism director is raging against his Jewish guests today, in such a way, and trying to discredit a project of dialogue and mediation, disappoints me and leaves me perplexed.

Michael Thaidigsmann talked to the Secretary General of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.

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